To say that I was anxious going into this race would be the understatement of the year. I set a lofty goal for myself, and the thought that 18 weeks of hard training could all be shot to hell because of the weather had me on the verge of tears all week long. I wanted those 10 seconds back. I wanted them BAD. I resigned myself to the fact that I would need to change my race strategy to account for the heat and humidity, but I knew that I wouldn't be happy with anything more than 3:59:59. I was an absolute wreck. Poor husband had probably had his fill of my moping and whining and self-deprecation - if I learned anything this training cycle, it's that I'm absolutely miserable during the taper period. I get pissy and restless and dream up all kinds of phantom injuries. This time around I had a stress fracture and a busted knee. And a blister, that was NOT imaginary, from my last long run leading up to race weekend. I spent the whole week freaking out about the blister and anything else I could think of to freak out about. I was a miserable person to be around. Sorry to everyone who had to suffer alongside me in real life.
Charlie and I at the Expo. I felt like the clock was teasing me - ha ha, you won't get sub-4, ha ha ha ha ha - I told you, I was losing my shiz.
On race morning I was up and out the door by 4:30, after a night full of tossing and turning. I had adopted a Lance Armstrong quote for the weekend, which is funny, because I don't really care for him. I tried to use it as a sleep mantra - "Pain is Temporary, Quitting is Forever." It didn't work. Well, it didn't work to sleep, anyway, but it must have had some psychological effect, because when the porta-potties had been visited and the bra had been stuffed with sport beans and salt, I went over and stood next to the 3:50 pace group in my assigned Pig Pen. I may have been able to get away with taking some giant steps back and wimping out, had I not run into my Somewhat Likeable Friend. I had been spotted! We chatted and she gave me a pseudo-pep talk, which is fitting, because it was her and her blog that inspired me to take up the hobby, to begin with. So there I stayed, next to the guy with the 3:50 balloons. The ceremonies went on, we sang the national anthem, and then - we were off! Well, kind of. It took a good 90 seconds to actually make it over the start line. But, we were off, and the miles began to tick by. Over the bridge and into Kentucky, west from Newport to Covington, another bridge, more downtown streets, and a third bridge back to Cincinnati.
Short trip to the west side, then back east down 7th, through a canyon of screaming, cheering spectators. It was absolutely amazing how many people were out to cheer us along. After that it was time to climb the hills - the long, steep incline up Gilbert and the stair-step hills through Eden Park, home of the famous inspirational phone booth.
Once the hills were behind us things really started to pick up - the segments through O'Bryonville and Hyde Park went by in the blink of an eye. I felt strong and full of energy. My beans and salt tablets were working exactly as I expected. No random bouts of nausea to derail me this year. The sun started to beat down as we left Hyde Park and Fairfax to enter the charming village of Mariemont, where the residents were waiting to spray us down with hoses. It was heavenly! Then it was on to the dreaded Columbia Parkway section of the course. It was so hot out there on the road with no shade trees. Turning off of the parkway was such a relief. We exited onto Eastern Ave and continued to run at a steady 8:46/mile pace down Eastern and finally onto Riverside. That's when I started to falter. Mile 23 was rough - the pacers were great, super encouraging, reminding us to take it just one mile at a time. Up until that point I had felt invincible, but the wheels were starting to fall off. I plodded on until somewhere in Mile 24, when I took a walk break through a water stop. Thankfully, I was able to start running again pretty much right away. The pace group was a little ahead of me, but the leader kept turning around to shout encouragement at me. The crowd lining the street was pretty awesome, too - this was when I started talking to myself - yes, out loud - telling myself to keep running, one foot in front of the other, you're almost there - and they just kept cheering me on.
Halfway into Mile 25, my legs just didn't want to go anymore, so I slowed to a walk/jog until I crested the final "WTF hill." I was ok with slow progress up that godforsaken hill, because I knew that I had plenty of time to reach my goal. Hell, I could have crawled that last .7 miles and still have made it in. That's about when I spotted the husband and the kid in the crowd. I couldn't possibly walk/jog past them, so I picked it up again. Husband managed to snap a single somewhat-ok picture of me - this is just past the point where I thought I was going to die. That chick in the tutu became my motivation - MUST BEAT THE TUTU! (and I did)
I crossed the finish line in 3:50:28. I collected my recovery snacks and water, had a brief celebration with Auntie Ann, and then continued on in search of the bag buses and my flip flops. After I got my stuff I collapsed on the grass. I *may* have cried in relief of actually meeting my goal. I was exhilarated.
After I met up with the fam, I celebrated with a berry weiss beer. Super tasty. It was a good day.
In the end, this was, hands down, the smartest training cycle I've ever done, and it resulted in the smartest race I've ever run. I followed the plan set out in the FIRST training plan (Run Less, Run Faster), but not the advanced mileage version. I missed one run in the middle, thanks to a business trip, and one run toward the end, when I was making sure that I didn't have an injured hip. Other than that, I did my speedwork religiously and didn't skimp on the mileage during my tempo runs. I pushed myself to approach The Wall on my long runs and developed a smart fuel/hydration/electrolyte replenishment strategy. I did the whole pre-race increased carb thing, but did it smartly, watching my carb/fat/protein percentages and being careful about where the carbs came from. And on race day, that all paid off, and then some.
I was still standing at the end of it :)